Thousands of kanji characters were in use in various writing systems, leading to great difficulties for those learning written Japanese. Additionally, several characters had identical meanings but were written differently from each other, further increasing complexity.
Prior to World War II, language scholars[who?] were concerned with these problems in learning fluent Japanese. One of their more radical proposals was to abolish the Chinese kanji characters entirely and make use of an entirely phonetic system. When the Ministry of Education tried to implement this reform, however, it encountered strong opposition from scientists, writers and the general public, and the idea was finally dropped.
After World War II, the Ministry of Education decided to minimise the number of kanji by choosing the most commonly used kanji, along with simplified kanji (see Shinjitai) commonly appearing in contemporary literature, to form the tōyō kanji. This was an integral part of the postwar reform of Japanese national writing.
This was meant as a preparation for re-introducing their previous unsuccessful reform abolishing Chinese characters. Although the postwar timing meant no public debate was held on the future of the Japanese written language, the defenders of the original kanji system considered and accepted the tōyō kanji as a reasonable compromise. Since this compromise could not then be withdrawn in favour of more radical reform, discussion of kanji abolition ended. Thirty-five years passed before further reforms were brought to the Japanese written form.
The table of the pronunciations of the kanji was published in 1948 and the list of characters in 1949.
In 1981, the Ministry of Education decided to replace the tōyō kanji with a more flexible system, leading to the publication of the jōyō kanji. This rendered the tōyō kanji obsolete.
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